Friday, March 20, 2009

Animal Farm Friday: Dedicated to the Vultures of Wall Street

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The foie gras fight

Just read a mostly decent article on Salon about the fight over foie gras (h/t Kitten). Some very good points were made by the writer, Alex Koppelman, until the last paragraph, which nearly discredits the entire article:

The anti-meat activists can't very well persuade Chicago to ban beef or pork or chicken, so they focus instead on something easier, arguably to the detriment of general livestock. They're demonizing and hurting small farms that care about the health of their animals. Meanwhile, factory farms that do unspeakable things to the creatures in their care are let off the hook.

Anti-meat activists - esp. PETA - wage just as intense of a war against factory farms and all meat consumption as they do against foie gras. I'm a former animal rights activist and former PETA member, and am now a co-owner of an organic/human/sustainable meat company, so I have a clear picture of both sides of the "meat debate", and I've had it with jerks who attack groups like PETA out of ignorance and petty spite.

Just as there are some foie gras farms that are inhumane, there are also animal rights activists that are disingenuous. But making gross generalizations about animal rights activists is just as harmful as gross generalizations about foie gras farming practices. Alex Koppelman should keep his frustrations with specific animal rights activists confined to the narrow few that are being deceitful - just like he tries to single out bad foie gras farms from the goods ones, and back off attacking the movement at large.

I'm sick of this kind of sloppy journalism. Salon can do better.

I am really starting to hate Israelis least their soldiers. They make me sick to my stomach.

Cast Your Vote

I wonder if David Axelrod thinks people won't care about this

Citigroup Inc. plans to spend about $10 million on new offices for Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit and his lieutenants, after the U.S. government injected $45 billion of cash into the bank.

People don't care?

I am blown away by this asinine remark by David Axelrod.

“People are not sitting around their kitchen tables thinking about AIG,” Axelrod said. “They are thinking about their own jobs.”

Um... David. This is not an either/or situation. People do sit around worrying about their jobs, and being pissed off that the greedy bastards who are largely responsible for them losing their jobs are making off with millions of dollars that their taxes are going to pay (should they be so lucky to find enough work to pay the taxes).

This is stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dork Rap!

Even more funny each time you watch it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Props to the Mayor

Gavin is sounding pretty good here:

Earmark Hypocrites

TPM has a great photo spread of all the earmark hypocrites, the blowhards railing against excessive spending while they're responsible for a loading up the spending bill with pork. You can see right through their slimey tactics. Fatten up the bill first, then attack Obama for passing a bloated bill.

Of all the hypocrites though, the one that has irked me the most is that punk Evan Bayh. Since he's been in office, he's done nothing to stand in the way of GOP/George W Bush spending and budgets, but now that we have a Democratic president, he suddenly grows a pair and is now an instant fiscal conservative? Give me a f***ing break! The chump needs to be taken out behind the wood shed and taught what happens to hypocrites and liars! At the very least, we need to start fielding credible primary challengers to run against this fool when the time comes!

Holy Bile: Pope says condoms don't stop the spread of AIDS

If anyone ever wonders why I HATE religion, especially religious authority, here's a great example:

The spread of HIV and Aids in Africa should be tackled through fidelity and abstinence and not by condoms, Pope Benedict XVI has said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki with Pope Benedict XVI in May

Never mind that the overwhelming mountain of actual data makes this claim about the most pathetically asinine thing this scumbag Pope has ever said, it's just entirely dangerous as hell. The words of this former Hitler Youth (and child rapist enabler) have the power to condemn millions more Africans to death of HIV/AIDS, simply because of an utter lack of understanding of human nature, and disregard for scientifically proven facts.

Santelli, Sen. Kyl Push Back Against "Outrage" Over AIG Bonuses

Maybe I'm missing something, but I thought Jon Stewart made the case that CNBC has zero credibility.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Washington is predisposed to see public passion and anger as a threat rather than an opportunity

The title of this post is grabbed (and paraphrased) from David Sirota's excellent post at Open Left.
Wall Street sycophants like Summers and Geithner continuing to push a red herring that says there's nothing that can be done to stop corporations from using our taxpayer money to subsidize bonuses for the same executives who created this economic crisis.

... the populist anger that the Times examines could be a huge force for good - if the administration gets serious about championing it, rather than trying to suppress it out of deference to a punditocracy that says it is "dangerous" or "unserious" or "too emotional." Doing the latter, in fact, is the best way for the White House to become a target of the public's ire.

I'm getting increasingly frustrated by Geithner specifically, and Summers recently. For Geithner, I'm fairly convinced now that he's in waaaaayyyy over his head, and is completely lacking in vision, internally and externally. Ancedotal evidence would indicate that he's trying to balance chainsaws with razorblades; he's trying to keep the richies from having to part with too much cash while the economy collapses on the little people. Which one can stand the bigger loss? Which can tolerate the chainsaw, and which the cuts of the razorblades?

If he had smart leadership behind him, the rich SOBs that got us in this mess in the first place would be getting the full brunt of the chainsaws, face first. But we're not seeing that kind of leadership right now. Again, another day, and we find out that we're into AIG for even more money that they're using to enrich themselves. The very small group of "pirates" that caused the crisis at AIG are raking in the largest amount in bonuses. And once again, Obama is a day late and a dollar short to this mess, and he has to go out and deliver another speech to cover his ass.

No one expects Obama to have all the answers, and this mess is really too big for any one man to handle. But huge mistakes like this just make it that much harder for everyone. It's directly related to shortsightedness, and a distorted pro-business perspective. For example, how in the world is anyone able to say with a straight face that we have to coddle the very thieves responsible for trashing the global economy out of fear that we won't be able to hire the "best and brightest" to get us out of this mess? Who believes that there aren't plenty of smart but cautious economists who could help untangle this Gordian Knot? I'm willing to bet that there are plenty of economists who were actually smart enough to see this house of cards for what it was and decided not to sully themselves by playing the foolish games of the greedy. Why not let the thieves go, and replace them with the smart guys, the ones who weren't spending every waking hour trying to game the system, but the ones who want to make it work?

Who else believes Liddy, the current CEO of AIG, when he says they are bound by contract to pay these bonuses? I know litigation attorneys, and the first thing each of them will tell you is that the validity of any contract depends on which lawyer argues his case better. In other words, there aren't many contracts that can't be "altered". I want to say that Obama should have known this, but now there is a report out that Treasury knew all along about these AIG bonuses, and helped make it happen.

All this said, I'm still not ready to give up hope on Obama. I'm shouting this out because I want him to do better, and I think he can do better. Of course, my entire post is based on what I've pieced together, and my argument is only as strong as the weakest post of all I cited. I need to dig some more to see what the deeper story is here, but so far it's just not looking good.

As much as I'd love to see Geithner go, it's politically untenable, as letting him go would be worse for Obama than just gradually marginalizing him. I think at this point Obama needs to get someone else in to give poor Tim a hand, or 2010 is going to look a lot like 1994. That's the real backlash they need to be concerned with.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I Watched the Watchmen

I have a confession to make, and one that might destroy my comic geek cred. I've never been a fan of Watchmen.

Don't get me wrong. I have tremendous respect for the impact that Watchmen had on the genre. Were it not for this book, other great works and writers that followed may not have been possible. But it must be said that of many great works that did follow Watchmen, or were inspired by Alan Moore's other works, most of them were actually better than Watchmen, as were many writers being better than Moore. It was through the post-Watchmen writers and books that I found my way to Watchmen. By the time I got to Watchmen in the mid-1990s, it was already past its time. More than a decade after that I see the movie, which is as faithful to the comic as any movie could be, and is exactly why it fails.

Taken at face value, Watchmen is a seminal piece of work, and groundbreaking for the medium, but it is no literary masterpiece. As a comic book, it is masterful. As a work of fiction, it is really quite average. Watchmen is groundbreaking in the sense that this story is one of the first times that comic book heroes are shown to have genuine human failings, weaknesses that can - and do - cause great harm. Even though it is a modest study of human nature, this nature is somewhat distorted by the focus on the heroes, who are arguably still greater than other humans by comparison to the common man in the book. Watchmen is not an examination of the human condition through the fall of people that society has elevated to hero status, it is a story about comic book heroes, written for fans of comic books. In the words of the series illustrator, Watchmen is "a comic about comics". Watchmen was not written for the general public, which is why it should not have been made into a movie, and certainly not a movie that tries to remain as close to the original book as possible. That should have been obvious to anyone paying attention, as the author said this directly:

"What I'd like to explore is the areas that comics succeed in where no other media is capable of operating", and emphasized this by stressing the differences between comics and film.

Watchmen made for a bad movie for many reasons. Criticisms of the book aside, there are many devices that make the story work in book form that cannot be translated to film. The slow pace of character development, minor characters who are actually very important to the plot, various complicated subplots, and  the insertion of sometimes seemingly irrelevant back stories, all elements that help immerse the reader into this alternate reality are simply not possible to recreate on film, even in a three-hour movie. In the absence of the devices, all the audience has to suspend disbelief and become part of the Watchmen's world are novel twists on actual historical events and characters, allusions to real-world places and people, flashbacks of events in the characters' pasts that are mostly the standard trope of stereotypical conflicts (adultery, wrong place/wrong time, etc.), and a lot of cheesy, expository dialogue.

The Watchmen themselves are thin and cartoonish in the book, and on the big screen, that becomes even more pronounced. All of them pay homage to characters from early comics, which won't matter a bit to anyone who is not a fan of the medium. And many of those characters were thin and cartoonish out of necessity, and this is a major reason why comic books have always been scorned as unserious.

I take issue with most of the characters in the book, but especially in the movie, since the movie magnifies greatly the weaker aspects of the characters. Nite Owl’s alter-ego has been called an “impotent Clark Kent”, but in the movie, Patrick Wilson is more like Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswald from National Lampoon's Vacation, though he suits up well and has some decent fight scenes (likely a stunt man). Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre II was most interesting when she had her clothes off, and I don’t mean that in a perverted sense. The rest of the time, she’s just vapid and whiney. She was as convincing in her fight scenes as was Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, which isn’t saying much. As for Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias, I’ll say that his fight scenes were decent enough, but I have nothing else good to say about his otherwise flat and dull performance. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s The Comedian character was successfully detestable, so much so that you wanted bad things to happen to him, and were satisfied when they did.

The one character with the most potential for being interesting was the least interesting character of all. This is true of the book, and made even worse by Billy Crudup’s weak performance in the movie. I speak of Dr. Manhattan, a superpowered human capable of controlling matter and energy at the quantum level. Many things about this character have always bothered me. While most comic books treat science loosely, Alan Moore feigned scientific knowledge when writing Dr. Manhattan. Unfortunately, Mr. Moore has the same thin grasp of quantum physics as most comic writers, so as cool as the character could have truly been, he turned out to be nothing more than a big blue parlor trick. In the book, his character at once has no emotional concern for humans, yet does. Both of these exist in the character at the same time, but I guess since his character is not of time, this is gag. But it just doesn't make sense. He portends to be beyond other humans, yet he embodies the same pettiness as most humans. As for his magnificence, we see Dr. Manhattan use his powers over atoms to assemble and disassemble machinery, but it's always done in whole parts, not at the atomic level, which would make more sense (although, he does tend to disassemble humans at the cellular level). Also, Dr. Manhattan can grow to forty feet, apparently, completely ignoring the Law of Conservation. I also never quite got his ability to be two places at once. Entanglement doesn't work that way, and even if he is not of time, those who observe him are. So even on a theoretical scale, he couldn't be boning Laurie in one room while working on machines in another. Like I said, parlor tricks. This is too bad, because the real science of quantum physics is extremely cool, and the character could have been really amazing. I get that his character was based on an amalgam of "atomic" characters from pulp fiction and other cheese-ball sci-fi classics (including Captain Atom), and this speaks to why Watchmen is bad for a movie. People are tired of that type of schlock. We've moved on. But Moore doesn’t deserve all the blame for Dr. Manhattan’s poor screen presence. Billy Crudup did a perfect job making the character even more boring than he was in the series.

The one character I found the most interesting in the Watchmen movie is the same as was in the book: Rorschach. Jackie Earle Haley's performance was by far the best of the entire movie. His character wasn't particularly complex, much like the pulp characters he was based on, but was still intriguing. He is the masked vigilante with inexplicable abilities, questionable morals, and is of singular purpose: Justice! Haley's performance was spot on. He made you feel Rorschach's inner rage that burned hot enough to erupt like a volcano at times, and at other times you'd swear he had ice in his veins. He had the best line of the movie, and delivered it - in the prison scene - with awesome perfection:

"None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me."

But one character, no matter how great the performance, could not save Watchmen from itself.

Watchmen began as a comic series cum graphic novel that was an "homage to the simplicity and unsophisticated nature of Golden Age comic books" overflowing with Cold War paranoia, populated with narrow characters and corny dialogue. Watchmen ends as a larger than life example of just that. Such that large screens allow us to see the pores and the wrinkles and the blemishes on the characters’ faces,  the big screen exposes what is the worst of the Watchmen comic series, magnified a thousand times.